Glossary Background Image

No Bad Questions About Software Development

Definition of Assembly language

What is assembly language?

Assembly language refers to a group of low-level programming languages that allow humans to communicate directly with hardware. Since machine language is expressed in binary code, assembly language is written in a manner humans understand. Assembly languages were developed before the high-level languages that are more commonly used today.

Every computer processor has its own assembly language, which means any one language is not portable to other machines. However, all these languages are similar in that they have elementary instructions with mnemonic codes and operands representing the data involved in the interaction. Assembly languages are usually not written in modern computer programming but are a crucial part of systems programming and certain applications that require high performance.

How do assembly languages work?

A programmer defines instructions for a processor and writes these instructions in assembly language using mnemonic codes. The code is then put into an assembler that translates the instructions into machine language or binary code. This code is then linked to any system libraries necessary to create an executable file, which is uploaded into the hardware’s memory. The last step is to execute the program and observe the results.

Because the programmer communicates directly with the hardware in these steps, they can manage its resources more efficiently, which is one of the main benefits of assembly languages. Other advantages include the smaller size of the code involved and the faster execution compared to other languages. The drawbacks are their complex syntax and the challenges of debugging and maintaining the code.

What are assembly languages used for today?

Despite their status as low-level languages, assembly languages still have uses today. They are used to manipulate hardware directly, access specialized processor instructions, or assess critical performance issues. They provide direct control over hardware, which allows for customizing and optimizing it for specific situations and industries.

For example, high-frequency trading platforms rely on assembly languages to complete transactions faster. Since they communicate directly with hardware, unlike high-level languages that must first translate their instructions into machine code, assembly languages reduce the time involved in trading. The increased speed gives companies using these platforms an advantage over competitors. Companies can also use assembly languages to study vulnerabilities and other security issues by reverse engineering hardware.

How is assembly language different from machine language?

Machine language is binary code that is understood only by machines. It’s the lowest-level of programming languages. An assembly language is a step higher and is a readable interpretation of machine language for humans. In other words, assemble languages are simple instructions written in human language that represent commands in machine code.

Key Takeaways

  • Assembly languages are a group of low-level languages that allow humans to interact directly with hardware.
  • Once code has been written in an assembly language, it’s put into an assembler that translates the code into machine language or binary code.
  • As opposed to machine language, assembly languages can be read and interpreted by humans.
  • Every processor uses its own assembly language, which means these languages are not portable to other systems. Other drawbacks include the complex syntax and maintenance difficulties.
  • The benefits of assembly languages are the ability to directly control hardware to optimize performance, such as in high-frequency trading, where assembly languages increase the speed of transactions.

More terms related to Software Development